Keeping the Lights on with Elmer Buchta Trucking

Elmer Buchta Trucking hauls 1,500 loads of coal, limestone and aggregate across the Midwest each day. Some of the fleet’s trucks haul 14 loads daily, taking coal from mines to utilities. At 550 million tons a year, the Otwell-based company is the largest hauler of coal combustion products in Indiana.

With that much  payload each day, you don’t just need a tough truck, you need a smart truck. That’s why Buchta (pronounced BOOK ta) turned to Mack Trucks when it upgraded its fleet.

Elmer Buchta Sr. started the business in 1937, moving livestock and equipment to and from his father’s farm. During WWII he hauled ammunition and by 1946 he expanded to include moving houses and other buildings. He transported large equipment, mobile homes and established a long-haul freight division. In the mid-1970s the company began hauling coal. By the time Elmer Buchta Jr. returned to work for the company after college, the company had 20 trucks hauling coal and total sales of $2-to-3 million a year.

When Elmer Buchta Jr. sold the company in 2008 to the Wright Family Investment Group, annual sales had risen to $55-to-$60 million a year, with the coal hauling division as the only remaining business segment. Since then, Ray Wright and the other principals have maintained the company’s position as the largest, most successful coal hauler in the state with 500 employees and owner-operators, with 140 power units. It has six terminals along with a main office and typically operates within a 150-mile radius of Otwell. Since 2008 the company has added a fuel hauling division, with an eye to further expansion.

Success has come from a combination of opportunity and skill.

“We have a good product mix,” said Tom Bennett, a vice president at Buchta. “We’re located in southern Indiana where there are numerous coal mines and utilities. We’ve been able to keep our revenue up based on tons shipped to utilities. People need electricity.”

“We see ourselves as a service operation,” said Kirk Wright, a vice president at Buchta. “We balance our customers’ needs with our abilities, juggling load counts every day to make the trucks as efficient as possible. We help our customers achieve the best possible long-term solution.”

When it came to providing long-term solutions for Buchta, the company turned to Mack Trucks and Tom Doyle, account sales manager with Banner Truck & Trailer Sales in Evansville.

“Our biggest challenge long-term is staying ahead of the game of fuel mileage and regulations,” Bennett said. “That’s how Mack has helped us, with new technology and automated manual transmissions. They even out the fuel mileage across our fleet. That has helped us become more profitable and allowed us to pay our employees more through our profit-sharing programs.”

He’s talking about the recent purchase of 30 Mack® Pinnacle™ axle-back models with 395-HP MP7 engines, mDRIVE™ transmissions, 12,000-lb.-capacity front and 40,000-lb.-capacity rear axles. The spec also includes PTO units, hydraulic pumps, wet kits and fifth wheels to accommodate dump trailers. That order complements the 44 Pinnacle models bought over the past few years. Some 85 percent of the fleet is now Mack. The company is three years into a five-year replacement schedule.

The move to mDRIVE boosted morale as well as fuel mileage.

“When we first bought the company back in late 2008,” Wright said, “the average fleet mileage was 4.8 mpg. Today we get approximately 5.3 mpg for the entire fleet and 5.85 mpg with the new Pinnacle models. That’s a significant savings.”

Bennett gives the credit to mDRIVE. “The automated transmission has really helped us with driver recruitment and retention,” he said. “For our senior drivers, the transmissions will prolong their work career because there’s less stress on their legs. The AMTs also help us in recruiting new drivers.”

The pair has similar praise for Banner Truck, where Buchta has purchased power units and trailers for the past 30 years from then-salesman and now dealer principal Steve Evans.

“Banner not only works with Mack but with our trailer supplier,” Wright said. “They understand our business completely and spec our equipment to perform for the next five-to-eight years in a very demanding job. They don’t tell us what we want to know. They tell us what we need to know. And that’s refreshing in today’s world.”